Dear Fellow Parishoner,
Yesterday, when you arrived during the morning announcements at Mass, and chose our pew, I’m sure you expected the four of us to scoot inwards so you could sit on the aisle. Your very visible frustration with us when we moved our legs so you could move to the middle of the pew was not lost on us. Nor was your sigh. Nor was your irritated tone when you said, “Can you at least lift up the kneeler?”. We asked you to move to the center of the pew because we knew that when (not if) Tate needed to take a break from Mass, we would have to interrupt you again. And again. And again.
I saw your sideways glances at us as Mass began. Hubz, Jake and I stood to sing the entrance hymn. Tate sat “criss cross” on the pew, flipping his stick in front of his eyes, and commenting just slightly too loudly about the song. Tate tried to sit still in Mass. He tried all of his coping mechanisms. Only a few scripts slipped out as he tried to reconcile the weird lights, the hum of the electricity for the music equipment and sound system, and the cries of babies and toddlers who were none too pleased to be stuck in the pews as well. We encouraged him to stay with us for “just a few more minutes”.
Just as the visiting seminarian was approaching the ambo to give his homily/back story about his journey to the priesthood, Tate let out a vocal stim. Hubz scrambled with our son out to the nursery, where he could listen to the homily while Tate played with various toys and got out some of his anxiety. Fellow Parishoner, I saw you scoot slightly towards us, giving yourself more room.
Did you notice that Hubz and Tate came back as the homily ended? Did you see that Tate was more regulated and able to follow the routine of the Mass? We followed the crowd, praying, kneeling, standing…until, well, we couldn’t anymore. Tate needed another break. “Let’s get out of here, Mom.” I took him to the bathroom. He played in the sink in there for a minute. He needed a drink of water from the fountain, too. I had to step in when he started to perseverate and play with the button for the water. But, Fellow Parishoner, I’m sure you didn’t see that. No…you didn’t see that.
Tate wanted to come back in. We came and knelt down next to Hubz and Jake. Jake was handling Mass much better than usual, Fellow Parishoner. He was. He kept his hands to himself. He kind-of paid attention to what was being said. He followed along with the prayers. He didn’t keep asking if he was a good boy. But you probably just figured he was a typical kid, and his little brother was not. I saw the way you snapped at your daughter to pay attention…and then ever so casually looked our way. You may have been looking at the people to my left…or maybe at the statues of the saints. Who knows? But the overly-sensitive, battle-scarred autism mom that I am, well, I figured you were probably giving me the “see-I-know-how-to-keep-my-kid-in-line” look. I get it a lot, you know, that look. I do know how to help my kid…and that’s what we were doing with all of those breaks.
Did you notice, Fellow Parishoner, that Hubz took Tate out of Mass again as Communion started? He needed another break. He was starting to get louder, announcing to anyone who would listen that there was a spider web in the wayyyy-upper left corner of the church. See, our autistic little man, while looking for a focal point to try to not get overwhelmed, well, he noticed something that most of us don’t. He’s good like that…noticing little details and such. And yes, he was going to keep talking about it…so Hubz took him for another break.
As we sat down after Communion, to listen to Father one last time before he gave his final dismissal, you glanced at us again. Hubz and Tate were back in our pew. Tate wanted to be there. This time, you looked a little perplexed. A little confused. Maybe you were stifling a sneeze…or maybe you were trying to figure out what Tate’s “deal” was. (Don’t worry, we get that a lot…we’re used to it…) Did you listen as Father started to talk about the Knights of Columbus sitting at the front of the church? Did you hear his praise for them and their hard work and donations which helped fund and build a new classroom for our church’s SPRED program? Father explained that SPRED is the Special Religious Ed for children with developmental delays and cognitive delays. He explained how our parish’s program is becoming a model for other parishes in our diocese. Father explained how amazing it is that there are volunteers willing to give their time so that the “special” children can learn about their faith in a one-to-one setting. Where they can go at their own pace and participate in all of the sacraments.
Fellow Parishoner, did you notice the tears glistening in my eyes? Did you notice Hubz squeezing Tate and telling him that the classroom was for him? Did you? See, Fellow Parishoner, our son, our beautiful Tate, is 1 in 88. He has Autism. He has SPD. He has a few other issues that impact his daily life. But, he was here, just like you, celebrating the Mass with other Catholics. It wasn’t as easy for him as some others, but he did it. He made it through a Mass without a meltdown. Without too much anxiety. And with a few breaks with mom and dad as needed.
So, Fellow Parishoner, please remember, next time you are asked to move to the center of the pew when you are late, there may be a good reason for it. Swallow that frustration, and let it go. We’re all together under God’s roof for the same purpose…to celebrate and pray, regardless of where we end up sitting in a pew.